By Miho Ikeya / Yomiuri Shimbun Photographer
KAZO, Saitama–“I don’t want to die here, but you never know,” Tadashi Sato, 78, said with a sigh at the only remaining evacuation center for victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami last year.
He is one of about 300 people who evacuated from Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, due to the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, to the shelter at a school building in Kazo.
The entire town of Futaba and the town office relocated to the former Saitama prefectural Kisai High School from its first evacuation site at the Saitama Super Arena at the end of March last year.
About 1,400 of the town’s residents once lived there as evacuees. Now, there are only 300, as those of the working generation gradually moved out to government-leased units in the neighborhood or relatives’ homes. About a half of the remaining people are 65 or older.
The Futaba town government occupies the second floor of the five-story school building, which includes the town mayor’s office. Other floors and a kendo training hall have been used as temporary residences. Most elderly people live on the first floor as many of them use walking sticks or wheelchairs.
Tatami mats have been laid out on the floors, with about 10 people living in each room. There are no partitions in some rooms to prevent the seniors from feeling isolated. However, standing up, it is easy to see what other people in the room are doing. A two-meter-high cardboard box in a corridor serves as a makeshift change area.
Sato has yet to return to his home since he evacuated shortly after the disaster without taking anything with him. He lived alone in his house.
He said that while it is helpful to live in the evacuation center with people in the same situation, he misses his former community, where neighbors sometimes brought him cooked fish and other things.
Some people are unable to leave the evacuation center because they cannot find a job. Shoji Sugamoto, 56, is one of them. He helped with his parents’ farming operation after he quit working at a local factory in his 40s. While living as an evacuee he said, “I cannot find a job because of my age.” His house was destroyed by the tsunami and his mother remains missing.
On March 19, the Futaba town assembly passed a resolution calling for the return of the town office functions to somewhere in Fukushima Prefecture by the end of June.
However, Futaba Mayor Katsutaka Idogawa has avoided specifying the place and date of relocation. Even if the town office functions can be moved back to Fukushima Prefecture, it is unclear whether the 300 people living in the evacuation center will be able to move together.
“It might be difficult to return to Futaba but I hope the town’s name survives,” Sugamoto said.
Although restoration has progressed in many places, time at the last evacuation center stands still.